The majority of living Nobel Literature Prize winners have written to world leaders before the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) urging them to "devote part of your agenda to the many thousands of political prisoners held in Egypt’s prisons – most urgently, the Egyptian-British writer and philosopher, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, now six months into a hunger strike and at risk of death."
The letter, organised by Alaa's publishers Fitzcarraldo Editions and Seven Stories Press, has been signed by 15 Nobel laureates: Svetlana Alexievich, J. M. Coetzee, Annie Ernaux, Louise Glück, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Kazuo Ishiguro, Elfriede Jelinek, Mario Vargas Llosa, Patrick Modiano, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk, Roger Penrose, George Smith, Wole Soyinka and Olga Tokarczuk.
On November 6th, the first day of COP27, Alaa will stop drinking water. He has been on hunger strike in prison in Egypt for over 6 months.
The letter, reproduced below, has been sent to a range of heads of state, climate ministers, envoy heads and negotiators who will be heading to Egypt for COP27. They include the Secretary General and Deputy General of the United Nations; the President of the European Council; the President of the European Commission; the President, Foreign Secretary and Climate Envoy of the USA; the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and COP26 President of the UK; the Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Foreign Minister and Shadow Climate Minister of the UK; King Charles III of England; the President and Climate Envoy of France; the Chancellor, Foreign Minister and Climate Envoy of Germany; the Prime Minister of Bangladesh; the Prime Minister of Barbados; the President of Brazil; the Prime Minister of Denmark; the President of Ghana; the Representative of the Holy See; the President of Indonesia; the President and Minister of the Environment of Kenya; the President of the Marshall Islands; the Climate Envoy and the Minister for Climate and Energy of the Netherlands; the Prime Minister of New Zealand; the Prime Minister of Norway; the Vice-President of Palau; the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea; the Prime Minister of Samoa; the Head of the Climate Change Division of Sengal; the President of South Africa; the Prime Minister of Sweden; the Prime Minister of Switzerland; the President of Zambia; among others.
As your country's delegates prepare for the COP27 International Climate Conference in Egypt we, as Nobel laureates, write to urge you to devote part of your agenda to the many thousands of political prisoners held in Egypt’s prisons – most urgently, the Egyptian-British writer and philosopher, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, now six months into a hunger strike and at risk of death.
Alaa has spent the last ten years - a quarter of his life - in prison, for words he has written.
As Nobel laureates, we believe in the world-changing power of words - and the need to defend them if we are to build a more sustainable, genuinely fairer future.
We urge you to use the opportunity that is now in your hands to help those most vulnerable, not just to the rising seas, but those imprisoned and forgotten – specifically in the very country that has the privilege of hosting you. A just transition cannot solely be concerned with bringing down emissions, but must seek a re-construction of the status quo away from exploitation and coercion. If the world’s leaders gather in Egypt and leave without even a word about the most vulnerable, then what hope can they have? If COP-27 ends up a silent gathering, where no one risks speaking openly for fear of angering the COP Presidency, then what future is it that will be being negotiated over?
We understand well what is at stake with the negotiations and their urgency. But we write to remind you that, ultimately, it is not through compromise with authoritarianism that crises are averted. We believe that it is through more democracy, more transparency and more civic participation that the truest route to sustainability lies. Let us not use the excuse of pragmatism to avoid the hard questions.
We ask you to use your plenary address to speak the names of the imprisoned, to call for their freedom, and to invite Egypt to turn a page and become a true partner in a different future: a future that respects human life and dignity. We ask you use bilateral meetings to support the call from Egyptian and international human rights groups for a prisoner amnesty; to make your support a standing agenda item.
We ask you, in your address, to bring the voices of the unjustly imprisoned into the room. Alaa Abd el- Fattah’s powerful voice for democracy is close to being extinguished, we ask you to breathe life into it by reading his words. These, from 2019, about dealing with the climate crisis, are particularly resonant:
The crisis is not one of awareness, but of surrender to the inevitability of inequality. If the only thing that unites us is the threat, then everyone will move to defend their interests. But if we collect around a hope in a better future, a future where we put an end to all forms of inequality, this global awareness will be transformed into positive energy.
Hope, here, is necessary. Our dreams may not come to pass, but if we submit to our nightmares we’ll be killed by fear before the Flood.
Indeed, we cannot surrender to the inevitability of inequality. We cannot yield the possibility of a different future to an amoral managerialism of crisis. We must ensure that our words are spoken in defence of the most vulnerable – because we know that our silence puts them at greater risk.
J. M. Coetzee
Mario Vargas Llosa